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Guilty Bonds, Page 2

William Le Queux

woman of about thirty years ofage. Her wealth of fair hair had become unfastened, and fell indisorder about her bare shoulders. Her lips were still apart, as if inher last moments she had uttered a cry, and her clear blue eyes, wideopen, had in them a stony stare--that of death.

  Attired in an elegant evening dress of soft white silk, her low bodicerevealed the fatal wound in her breast from which the blood slowlyoozed, forming a dark crimson pool upon the carpet. Upon her wrist wasa splendid diamond bracelet of an uncommon pattern, for it was shaped torepresent a double-headed snake, and under the gaslight the gems dancedand gleamed with a thousand fires.

  The appearance of the murdered woman was hideous enough in itself, butsomething else we saw startled us, and sent an increased thrill ofhorror through our nerves.

  We were awe-struck by the sight of it, yet there was nothingextraordinarily revolting--merely a half sheet of notepaper upon whichwas a large red seal of a peculiar character, fastened to the breast ofthe dress.

  "Good God! The Seal!"

  It was the ejaculation of one of the constables as he knelt and unpinnedthe paper.

  Breathlessly, we bent over the piece of paper and closely examined it,for we were all aware of the unparalleled and inexplicable mysterieswith which not only London but the whole world was ringing.

  It had an awful significance.

  That its exact dimensions and strange hieroglyphics may be the morereadily conceived, I reproduce it here:--

  The horrible mystery connected with the fatal device flashed vividlyacross my mind in an instant, as, with a sickly, giddy feeling in myhead, my heart beating violently, and my hands trembling as if palsied,I examined it. What did it mean? I wondered in a dazed fashion, for mythoughts seemed in a whirl of maddening velocity. There was no power inmy mind to grasp the meaning of the hideous fact at first, and only astupefied, dull sense of evil filled my soul.

  My mental vision grew gradually clearer after a few moments; as ifslowly awakening from a frightful dream, I drew myself together, tryingto grasp the full interpretation of the mysterious symbol.

  Within the past few months there had been no fewer than six murders indifferent countries, and in every case a piece of paper with a sealidentical with the one we had just discovered had been found pinned uponthe breast of the victim; yet in no instance had there been a clue tothe murderer, though all the vigilance of the police, both at ScotlandYard and elsewhere, had been directed towards the elucidation of themystery.

  We stood aghast and pale, for the discovery had completely dumbfoundedus.

  There had been something so uncanny, almost supernatural, about the sixother crimes, which so closely followed each other, that for the momentwe were quite unnerved at this latest essay of the unrevealed assassin.

  A momentary glance sufficed to convince the constables that a brutalmurder had been committed, and after a few moments' hesitation two oftheir number hurried out--one to fetch the divisional surgeon, the otherto report to the inspector on duty at the station.

  The two constables remaining gently lifted the corpse, and placing itupon a low lounge near, began to examine the apartment. It was aluxuriously-furnished drawing-room, and the gas, which burned in crimsonglass, threw a soft harmonious light over the furniture and hangings,which were composed of pale blue satin; and upon the costly nick-nackswhich plainly showed the owner was possessed of artistic tastes andrefinement. A room, in fact, which bore the unmistakable traces of thedaily presence of a woman of wealth and culture.

  Glancing round, I could see that some of the articles were of greatvalue. The pictures were for the most part rare, the quaint old Dresdenand Sevres upon the brackets, and the ivory carvings, were allcuriosities of no ordinary character, while upon the mantelshelf stood aFrench clock, the tiny peal of silver bells of which chimed merrily,even as I looked.

  Presently the officers concluded their examination of the room, andtaking one of the candles from the piano, proceeded upstairs to searchthe house.

  Accompanying them, I, an unwilling witness of this midnight tragedy,found the whole of the rooms furnished in elegant taste, no expensehaving been spared to make them the acme of comfort and luxury. Everynook and corner was searched, without success, so we returned again tothe drawing-room.

  To our surprise we found the body had moved slightly from the positionin which we had placed it. The woman's bloodless face seemed graduallyto assume the faintest flush, her eyelids quivered, and in a strange,low whisper she uttered a word which to us was unintelligible.

  Again she articulated it with evident difficulty; then a convulsiveshudder shook her frame, her breast heaved, and her features again grewpale and rigid.

  We stood watching her for a moment. One of the constables placed hishand upon her breast, but withdrew it, saying, "It's all over with her,poor thing; I'm afraid the doctor won't be able to do her any good."

  And we sat down to await the arrival of the inspector and surgeon,conversing only in low whispers.

  A few minutes had elapsed, when they entered.

  The doctor, as soon as he saw her, shook his head, saying, "Dead, poorwoman! Ah! stabbed to the heart, I see."

  "Murder, evidently," exclaimed the inspector, glancing round; thenturning to the constables, he asked, "Have you searched the house?"

  "Yes, sir," they replied.

  "Found anything?"

  "This, we found in the hall," replied one of the men, taking a smallIndian dagger from a side-table, "and this paper was pinned upon herdress."

  The production of the seal caused both the inspector and doctor to startin surprise, and the former, after examining it, placed it carefully inhis pocket-book.

  Taking the knife in his hand, the inspector examined it minutely. Itwas stained with blood--evidently the weapon with which the murderer haddealt the fatal blow.

  The doctor also looked at it, and wiping the blood from the victim'sbreast, gazed upon the wound, saying, "Yes, that's the knife, without adoubt; but who did it is the question."

  "Who's this gentleman?" asked the officer, jerking his thumb towards me.

  "Gentleman who informed us, sir."

  "Do you know who lives here?" he asked, sharply, turning to me.

  "No, I do not. I am quite a stranger; in fact, I have never been inthis street before in my life."

  "Hum!" he grunted, in a rather suspicious manner. "And how came you toknow anything about the affair?"

  "I chanced to be passing at the time, and my attention was attracted bya scream. I found a space between the blind and the window, and mycuriosity being aroused, I looked in and saw the woman had beenmurdered."

  "Is that all you know?" he asked.

  "That's all."

  "Well, you won't mind just stepping round to the station for a fewminutes, will you? Then you can give us your version of the matter."

  "Oh, certainly I will, with pleasure," I replied. The inspector havinggiven some instructions to his men, the body of the murdered woman wascovered with a table-cloth, and we went out leaving two constables incharge of the premises.

  Dawn was spreading now; the stars had disappeared, and there were somesaffron tints in the east, heralding the sun's coming. At the corner ofMontague Street the doctor wished us "good-morning," and strode away inan opposite direction, scarcely well pleased at being aroused from hisbed and called out to witness so unpleasant a sight.



  A quarter of an hour later I was in the inspector's office at TottenhamCourt Road Police-Station, relating to him all I knew of the horriblediscovery.

  "You saw a man come out, you say? Are you certain of this?" theinspector asked, after I had concluded my story.

  "Quite; and, what's more, I saw his face."

  "Would you know him again?" he inquired, eyeing me keenly.

  "Certainly, I should."

  "Well, when you saw him, what did you do?"

  "I followed him. We ran for nearly five minutes with
out meeting aconstable, and I subsequently lost sight of him in Gray's Inn Road."

  "For five minutes without meeting one of our men?" repeated theinspector, dubiously.

  "Yes. I shouted, but nobody came to my assistance," I replied, for Ihad not failed to notice the suspicion with which he regarded me.

  The inspector's brows contracted slightly as he took a slate from hisdesk, saying, "Give me his description as accurately as possible,please."

  I did so, and he wrote at my dictation. As soon as he had finished, hehanded the slate to a sergeant, who at once went to the row of telegraphinstruments and transmitted the description of the murderer to all thestations in the Metropolitan Police District.

  "And this was upon the body when you saw it?" exclaimed the officer,smoothing out the crumpled piece of paper before placing it upon thedesk